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Jellyfish stings

Jellyfish are becoming more common off the UK coast, but jellyfish stings are still relatively rare.

The mushroom-shaped creatures, with long tentacles, can float near the surface, sometimes containing poisonous sacs trailing behind them. If you touch these, you get stung.

The Marine Conservation Society says large barrel jellyfish were seen in record numbers in 2015.

Mauve stingers have been seen around Guernsey, and potentially dangerous Portuguese Man O War jellyfish have washed up on beaches in South West England.

Not all jellyfish are dangerous. Some have a mild sting, while powerful stings can be received from others by brushing against them while swimming or paddling.

Jellyfish sting symptoms

Jellyfish sting symptoms can include severe pain, an itchy rash, and welts.

In rare cases, a serious reaction to a jellyfish sting can result in breathing difficulties, coma, or even death. The NHS advises dialling 999 if someone stung by a jellyfish is very young or elderly, or has:

Treatment

Most jellyfish stings, however, can be treated without medical help.

First, get the person out of the water.

If you have been stung keep still until help arrives as movement disperses the poison throughout your body.

Any tentacles sticking into the skin should be removed with tweezers, or a clean stick if tweezers are not available.

Applying ice or frozen food wrapped in a towel to the area around the sting can reduce inflammation.

Old remedies like vinegar, alcohol, baking soda, or urine don’t work and may make things worse by activating unfired stinging cells.

However, applying shaving cream to the affected area can help prevent toxins spreading.

A razor blade or a clean credit card can be used to remove any remaining poisonous sacs (nematocysts) attached to the skin.

Painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, can help with pain and inflammation from a jellyfish sting.

Precautions

Steps can be taken to try to avoid jellyfish stings:

  • If you see a jellyfish washed up on the beach, look but don’t touch it. Even dead jellyfish can sting.
  • If jellyfish have been reported in the area, a wetsuit or waterproof shoes can give protection.
  • Look for beach warning signs and follow advice from lifeguards or the coastguard.
  • Let sea creatures know you are coming when paddling by scuffing your feet along the sand or pebbles.

Consider enrolling for first aid training and carry a basic first aid kit to the beach.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 18, 2017

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